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People who are under the impression that they should 'take it easy' and do less exercise as they get older could be putting their health at serious risk, physiotherapy experts have warned.
A study published in the British Medical Journal from researchers at Oxford University and the UK's Centre for Ageing Better found that continuing to take part in regular exercise in later life can help to reverse the ageing of muscles by as much as a decade, keeping people feeling younger and fitter for longer.
Scientists found that even after a person has undergone some level of decline in their physical fitness levels, this can be reversed if they begin exercising - with the advice of a physiotherapist if necessary - once again.
The research showed that physical ageing tends to accelerate if an individual spends a lot of time sitting down at a desk or driving to work, meaning exercise is essential in their spare time to prevent their fitness levels from ageing faster than them.
Stopping exercise altogether can speed up the ageing process and increase a person's likelihood of becoming immobile and requiring social care.
Indeed, the study found that people were more likely to suffer a fall if they didn't keep on top of strengthening their muscles and core balance. Falls in later life increase a person's chance of requiring a stay in hospital and taking a long time to recover.
Anna Dixon, chief executive at the Centre for Ageing Better, explained: "Falls account for four million hospital bed days every year. Physical activity that maintains and improves muscle strength and ability to balance is crucial in reducing the risk of falling, potentially saving the NHS £1 billion a year from hip fractures. It is also critical to helping people live independently as they get older."
It was also found that if people require care to help them recover from a fall, others perform tasks for them, which makes them less likely to learn to do them themselves again, lowering their physical fitness levels further.
With this in mind, it is therefore better to prevent a situation like this from occurring in the first place, by always continuing to exercise regularly, simply adapting levels of physical activity in later life if necessary.
Written by Mathew Horton
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